No Trent, no Robertson, no sweat - Liverpool's title credentials beyond dispute after show of squad strength
No Trent Alexander-Arnold, no Andy Robertson, no Joel Matip.
No problem, as far as Liverpool are concerned.
Jurgen Klopp’s men are back in familiar territory. Top of the Premier League, winning games and reminding the world that those who have written them out of this season’s title race better think again.
While Manchester City stuttered on Saturday, drawing at home to Southampton, the Reds were able to take full advantage. Their 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace sends them to the summit, another tricky fixture negotiated with the minimum of fuss.
Those who doubt the strength and depth of Liverpool’s squad may need to revise their opinion. That’s three wins in seven days for Klopp’s side, with the manager able to rotate and re-jig throughout.
He changed his whole defence for this game.
Virgil van Dijk returned after being rested for the Champions League win over AC Milan in midweek, and the Dutchman had a new centre-back partner in Ibrahima Konate, the summer signing from Leipzig making his competitive debut for the Reds.
Neither of Liverpool’s world-class full-backs played. Trent Alexander-Arnold awoke feeling unwell – not Covid-19, the club confirmed – while Andy Robertson was left on the bench after a heavy workload for club and country.
It was the first time since December 2018 that Liverpool had started a Premier League game without those two, and the first time at Anfield since November 2017, but Klopp will have been delighted to see how his replacements fared.
Kostas Tsimikas had a hand in two goals, while James Milner, a reluctant right-back as well as a veteran one, did admirably against the dangerous Wilfried Zaha as Palace’s dangerman was kept on a short leash.
The 35-year-old remains an important figure in Klopp’s side, bringing experience, versatility and hunger whenever called upon.
How Anfield enjoyed this, even if Palace kept the home side honest for much of the afternoon. It wasn’t until the 78th minute that Liverpool got the all-important second goal, and Mo Salah’s celebration – removing his shirt in delight – said plenty.
Salah moves on to 99 Premier League goals for Liverpool, and earlier Sadio Mane had notched his 100th in all competitions for the club.
The Senegal star has been criticised for missing chances of late, but he finished the one that mattered here. Mane has now scored in nine successive appearances against Palace, a Premier League record.
Klopp will be delighted to see his main men firing, and Diogo Jota should have joined them on the scoresheet too, but he will have been just as pleased to see another of his squad players, Naby Keita, cap the win off in fine style.
Keita had replaced Thiago Alcantara, who had suffered an injury just after the hour mark, and grabbed his first goal in nearly 14 months with a beautifully-controlled left-foot volley a couple of minutes from time.
All in all, a good day’s work for the Reds, who were able to give Matip and Alexander-Arnold the day off and who still boasted the likes of Robertson, Joe Gomez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Takumi Minamino in reserve.
As weak squads go, it’s pretty strong.
It may only be September, but these look like big weeks at the top of the table. With City having dropped five points already, the pressure is already on the reigning champions. Pep Guardiola’s side visit Chelsea next weekend, before a mouth-watering trip to Anfield on October 3.
As for Liverpool, they’ll be happy to keep plugging away. Klopp will rotate at Norwich in the Carabao Cup, where the likes of Gomez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Minamino and Curtis Jones will all expect to play, and knows a win at Brentford next Saturday would set them up nicely for the visit of City.
The chance is there for them to make a big move in the next fortnight.
It may not have been an eye-catching summer, but it's certainly been an eye-catching start to the campaign. Four wins from five, 12 goals scored and only one conceded.
Title contenders? You bet.
They didn’t even need their full artillery for this one. What does that tell you about the Reds' strength this season?